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A look at the Western Conference for Next Year: Part 1 - Lakers, Mavs, Spurs and Thunder

I did a similar post last year about the moves that teams made in the Western Conference and got some good response so I am doing it again. This year’s acquisition lists were a little more complicated so I am sure to leave some things out. Let me know if I did, especially if it seems to effect a team in a big way.

 

Lakers (last year 57-25; 1st seed). The Lakers didn’t make many moves to add but did makes some subtractions. Jordan Farmar made an exit and, as of right now at least, Shannon Brown is also on the FA list for someone to acquire. This is interesting because LA let go two guys who, while seemingly unimportant, have played a larger role than most would think in the last few years. Farmar has been with LA for 4-5 years now and has done good work especially as a sharp-shooter 3pt specialist. His defense hasn’t been shabby either but the signing of Fisher 2 years ago and the drafting of Brown saw his minutes reduced significantly. How he was a large nuisance for the Suns so we can happily say “adieu” to him. Brown’s absence will be more noticeable. Though the folks over at the Silver Screen and Roll have often been down on him, Brown showed an athletic ability that rivaled any other young guard in the league. Playing next to KB will do that. If they can’t pick up his contract again, LA will miss his contributions off the bench.  In response, the Lakers picked up Barnes, retained Fisher, and signed Steve Blake. All good moves that will make them better. Barnes’ 3pt ability and aggressive defense will serve them well and make them, if possible, an even longer team than they were last year. The addition of Blake will serve them well both defensively and offensively as Blake has proven to be a very solid PG, albeit with a limited skill set. All in all, the Lakers have made some great moves and again seem to be the number one spot for NBA champs. Of course, when you are paying nearly 100 million for a team, its not that hard is it?

 

Mavericks (last year 55-27; 2nd seed). On paper last year the Mavs looked to be the main contenders for the WC crown. The 2nd greatest trade of the decade that landed them Haywood and Butler for an injured Howard and pocket-change catapulted them firmly into this position. However Dallas showed once again that the supporting pieces that surround Dirk were not what they needed to be to advance. Chemistry issues and, frankly, coaching/style issues bogged the Mavs’ system down so that their playoff appearance against the Spurs was shortlived and anti-climactic. As a resident of Texas at the time I watched all these games with my Mavs friends who pointed out more than once the inability of the team to function while Dirk was on the court. It was as though everyone expected him to do the work and simply stood around while he took shots. This summer’s changes seem to have been made to work through this. Dampier’s gaudy contract is finally off the books and Dallas resigned Haywood  and Dirk with room to spare for a big name when the trade deadline comes along. In addition, the up-and-coming play of draft pick Roddy Beaubois proved, in the playoffs, to be a defining moment and glimmer of hope for Mavs fans. This year, again, the Mavs look to be one of the top teams with their defense tightening and perhaps some answers for their offense coming from young and unlikely places. I, for one, still question the ability of this team to function effectively on offensive as long as Dirk is relied on for so many shots. This, by itself, seems to be a major deficiency in the Mavs lineup and nothing seems to have been done to solve the problem. If the Mavs can score a big name PG like Chris Paul, my bet is that they will be instantly catapulted to the top spot in the West, but until then, I believe they are doomed for a middle-of-the-pack playoff seed and, at best, a second round exit.

Spurs (last year 50-32; 7th seed). SA was largely chosen last year as competitors for the WC champs. This was largely due to the addition of McDyess and Richard Jefferson, two perennial powerhouses in their respective positions. However, Jefferson never quite pulled it together and McDyess showed his age. Neither were effective forces either offensively or defensively and Jefferson, in particular, looked lost for most of the season. The bright spot for the Spurs was the play of George Hill and, in the late season, Manu Ginobili who helped them capture their spot for the playoffs, albeit just barely. This summer’s acquisitions were few but many have noted that the Spurs called up Tiago Splitter from the Euro-league. Many have raved about this kid’s potential and the Spurs once again look to be among the class of the West. For my part, I will not comment on Splitter until I see his play. Many said similar things of a certain Spaniard in Portland but look what happened there. Unless Splitter turns out to be a beast for the Spurs I can’t see them getting much better and will likely capture a 5-6th spot in the West due to the collective aging of Duncan, Ginobili, and McDyess and the rumored departure of Tony Parker.

Thunder (last year 50-32; 8th seed). There is really little to say about the Thunder. They made no acquisitions this season, opting instead to sign Durant and keep their young core. For some, this is seen as a savvy move because of the so-called high athletic ceiling of OKC’s young core (Green, Durant, Westbrook, Harden). I am more skeptical. For one, I can’t see Durant getting much better. This is not to say that he can’t get smarter, simply that there is only so much that one person can do on a team and Durant seems to have reached his limit. He can’t pull down too many more rebounds or shoot too many more shots without compromising the rest of the team’s offensive efficiency. Some have commented on Westbrook’s and Harden’s ceilings, noting that they still have a lot of growth coming. I think this is true in part, but that it is also overplayed. A similar thing was said of Portland and New Orleans 3 and 4 years ago about Brandon Roy and Chris Paul. While both of them are arguably superstars, neither has made particularly large strides over the last few years. My prediction is the same with OKC. Will they be better? Yes. Will they be contenders for the WC title? Surely not. And improvement over last year will occur with OKC likely landing the 4-6 seed but no higher than that.

 

Houston, Denver, Portland, Utah and PHX coming soon.

Lets hear your comments on each of thee teams. What did I miss? What did I get wrong?

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